The customers were slowly leaving the tavern, glancing one last time at the Master that had amused them with his great show.
"And then what happened?" asked Helial. "Can we skip the part of the lovebirds and go straight to the fight scene?"
Vidio took a deep breath.
"Don't die", Cori's words were bouncing around in his head, while a smile crept across his face.
"Die? Who's going to die?" said he, shaking his head. "Cori, today we'll find out how much I'm worth. The shadows where your father will try to finish me are just another test. Should I die, then I wouldn't deserve to be happy with you."
Vidio looked at the sky, his eyes shining with a strange light. "In this life, there are people who shine like suns and can infuse this radiance to other people, making them shine in turn. Today I'll find out if I shine enough to rip the darkness." Vidio clenched a fist in front of his face and said through gritted teeth: "I will find out if I am able to fight destiny and win. If I will be defeated, this will probably be the last time you see me alive."
"In my life I have committed two great sins: you are one of them. I indulged so much in love I lost myself. But I couldn't have committed a better mistake. The other one… In order to reach the greatest brightness I had to plunge my heart into darkness, and I fear I have never resurfaced completely. I created something I should never have created. If anybody found out… But after all, what aren't we willing to do to warm the heart of those that love us with such intensity…"
The corners of Vidio's mouth trembled as he was seized by a trace of melancholy. "And what if tomorrow someone was be forced like me to plunge their essence into darkness, in order to shine like the brightest of suns? Is there such damnation? Can we embrace evil to do good?"
Cori was looking at him, confused. Sometimes the words of that man became obscure and enigmatic. Not even she had managed to pierce the blanket of shadows that covered the bottom of his soul, which remained hidden by his laughter and his cheerful shallowness.
The woman took cover between his arms and began sobbing quietly. Vidio chuckled and hummed a tune, all the while stroking her hair.
Helial was puzzled. This was not the story he remembered. But something was telling him to stay quiet and listen, for once.
With a carefree look on his face, Vidio glanced at the big wigs of the Congregation, including the Episcopus.
Vidio clenched his fists. He would reach Immortality too one day and bend those pieces of shit to his will.
"You have passed the first two tests brilliantly", began the Episcopus, speaking in an emotionless voice. "The third and last test consists in fighting a creature in your same stage and Phase. Once passed this test, you will receive the title of Primary Master. Kneel and give thanks to the Mana flows that allow us to witness your deeds."
Vidio kneeled, but got back up right after reciting a brief formula. He had spent only a few seconds in that position. Usually, Masters would wait the Episcopus' permission to get up.
All the big wigs scowled.
Vidio cupped his hands and said: "I want to give thanks to the hard work I have done in my live to get here and the people that supported me. I am ready to face the creature."
Vidio's words had an ill-concealed meaning that was not lost on those crafty old foxes.
"I can clean my ass with the Mana flows. If I'm here it is thanks to my hard work and my talent, and not thanks to some weird astral conjunction", that was basically how Vidio's words sounded in the head of the Episcopus.
The Episcopus smiled and sighed.
"These young people are so full of life." He would have appreciated that kind of spirit from someone else, but not from that man. No, Vidio was destined to die, and he would have died that same day. The other big wigs were sitting stiffly, outraged by those words.
The Episcopus looked at them and rolled his eyes. "Look at this bunch with sticks up the ass. That's why I'm in charge and not you, you bags of shit." One did not climb up to a top position, if they were close minded. It took a lot of belief in one own's path and firmness in one's decisions, but that did not mean being a bigot. There were other Episcopi sterner and more close-minded than him, but they did not have his connections.
"Vidio…" the Episcopus shook his head, "Let the test begin."
Vidio paused and took a sip of wine from the goblet in front of him.
Still an open wound.
In front of Vidio there was a huge, majestic winged serpent. It emitted an oppressing Aura. But something was amiss. Hidden beneath the pressure of the Aura there was a hint of weakness.
Its body was several feet long and on the back sprouted two giant wings the winged serpent snarled, approaching slowly.
"Winged serpents, the bastards of the Bog Dragons. Strong, but not invincible", whispered Vidio.
It was all too easy. That creature was not as terrifying as Vidio had expected. Had the Episcopus made a mistake?
He had heard that the Episcopus in person had caught the beast. An Immortal could have done better, couldn't he?
"Master, what are the characteristics of a winged serpent?" asked Helial with curiosity.
"It can't spit fire, but has great Mana Control and it can evoke several Skills. It is some sort of Dragon, but a lot weaker. A Dragon could kill a hundred winged serpents with a blow of his paw." Then he added: "According to what we know, winged serpents are descendant of the Dragons and can evolve into superior life forms."
The body of the winged serpent was coverd with blood and it had lost many of its scales, where Vidio's Staff had hit it. The serpent looked exhausted and Vidio still had many tricks up his sleeve. The beast was covered in burn marks.
"Your excellency, don't you think the creature to be far too weak?" someone asked the Episcopus, raising an eyebrow to such an easy test.
"Oh, I'm afraid my old bones are not what they used to be. Have I picked too weak a creature? Should I have sent one of your young men to capture one for the test?" sneered the Episcopus.
Blood curdled in the veins of those around him, when they heard the Episcopus stifled laugh. That man was no fool; there had to be more to the story. Even those that a moment before had observed the fight with a bored look, now were focusing on it with renewed interest.
Vidio too had a very bad feeling regarding that whole business and wished to end the test as soon as possible.
Vidio stopped. Even though he had just ordered another glass of wine, his throat was getting dry and his eyes burned.
"And then? Why do you keep stopping?" asked Helial impatiently. That old pig was thinking for sure about some other waitress.
"It turned into a Dragon."
"The ruined scales started charring and turned to ash, replaced by black-bluish ones. The legs became ten times stronger… but aside from all the physical changes, the Aura was the most terrifying thing. In front of me there was one of the lords of the skies… not even Lightning Dance, my strongest Technique, managed to take me to his level."
Helial noticed that there was something wrong with Vidio's face. The face muscles of the Master kept contracting, in order to hide the true feelings behind those words.
"Once the third test has started, the Mana Congregation dictates that one cannot withdraw. One has to die: either the creature or who is taking the test…"
Vidio smiled a half smile at Helial.
"But Dragons", said Helial hesitantly, "are definitely superior creatures compared to everything else… What happened next?"
"We fought hard."
"And then I won."
All the big wigs of the Congregation, including the Episcopus, were staring at him in awe, a hint of horror in their eyes.
Covered in black and red, Vidio was standing next to the corpse of a huge Dragon. The frightening creature had a hole as big as a grown man's head right in the chest. His heart had shattered. There was no trace of life left in him.
The Master, however, although gasping, was leaning unsteadily against his chipped Staff. His hands, and actually the rest of his whole body, was shaking.
The gazed was fixed on those men, who looked back at him with hatred and spite.
Vidio's sight became blurred, his eyes full of tears. A faded figure appeared in front of him. A vision… that hair, those curves…
A warm tear rolled down Vidio's cheek and fell to the ground.
"Farewell, Cori…" whispered Vidio.
Vidio's story was fragmented and incomprehensible at times. Helial could not understand how his Master had managed to win. But the man was silent now, unable to go on. It was so out of character for him.
"I'd better go", said finally Helial, while Vidio kept staring at the bottom of the glass he was holding.
Vidio did not reply or move.
The boy pushed the chair from the table and stood up, heading towards the exit together with the few mercenaries left in the tavern.
Vidio looked up at Helial's back and his eyes filled with tears one more time, after twenty-five years.
Master for one day, father for a lifetime.
"Cori, I think I have found a son. Are you still waiting for me? I'll come back. He will let us be together."
A naïve and pathetic smile crept across Vidio's face, while tears streaked his cheeks.
There is a sort of bliss in tears…